A glance at the medal count table for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics shows some of the usual suspects. Host Japan had the lead in gold medals as of 2 p.m. Eastern on July 26. The People’s Republic of China had the most overall medals. The United States was in second place in both categories. But there was another entry on the list that’s a bit confusing. What, exactly, is a “ROC”?
First, it’s not to be confused with the ROK (Republic of Korea). It has nothing to do with professional wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson. No harm came to any mineral formations near Gibraltar while making the acronym, either. But it has driven many Olympics viewers to Google to see what the heck it is.
Russia is banned from international competition, including the Olympics
In December 2019, Russia received a four-year ban from any international sporting events in the wake of a doping scandal. The doping program was not just widespread among the Russian athletic community. It was also done with the knowledge of Vladimir Putin’s government. The ban knocked Russia out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Winter Games scheduled for China.
But the penalty also applied to other international events such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Russia’s ban ties directly to the ROC delegation competing in Tokyo.
News of the Russian violations of anti-doping regulations came down in late 2015. The discovery of state sponsorship came the following year. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency earned reinstatement on the condition it turn over all testing data from January 2012 to August 2015.
In 2019, however, WADA investigators discovered Russia had tampered with and destroyed vital evidence.
It’s not the first time there has been a doping scandal in what is now Russia. In 1980, coaches in the old Soviet Union encouraged track athletes to take oral steroids. The 2008 Beijing Games included the suspension of seven female Russian athletes for doping.
Certain Russian athletes being allowed to compete under the ROC banner
According to Newsweek, Russian athletes can compete at the Tokyo Olympics via a loophole in the rules. The International Olympic Committee allowed Russian athletes to compete. They had to prove they weren’t linked to the state-sponsored doping ring.
Those athletes are competing as the ROC contingent, which stands for Russian Olympic Committee. Because Russia can’t officially compete, these athletes will not see the Russian flag from the medal stand. Their gold-medal winners won’t hear the Russian national anthem, either.
Instead, the ROC flag —the Olympic rings and the red, blue, and white of the Russian flag — is flown. For gold medalists, the flag is accompanied by a snippet of a musical composition by Tchaikovsky.
The ROC situation isn’t a first for the Olympics, but it’s rare
In Tokyo, Russian athletes are competing under the ROC banner. That’s slightly different from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. In Pyeongchang, more than 150 Russian athletes competed as the OAR contingent. That stood for “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
Give the IOC an A-plus for clarity and a D-minus for creativity.
In 1992, the athletes from the former Soviet Union competed as the Commonwealth of Independent States, per UPI. That team flew the official Olympics flag and played the Olympic anthem. The former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, each took their own contingents to the Olympics in 1992.
The Olympics did not split to staggered timelines for the Winter and Summer Games until 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. The Olympics grew to the point that planning for two Games in a single year became unwieldy.
The Tokyo Games faced a one-year delay because of the pandemic. It is now facing pressure about the Winter Games in China set for 2022. According to Reuters, a group of U.S. lawmakers is urging the IOC to postpone the Beijing Winter Games.
It almost feels like International Olympic Committee can’t help but find itself between a ROC and a hard place.